Do you know when you should visit the Emergency Room versus Urgent Care versus your doctor’s office? So often, when we are faced with a medical situation, the question of which is the best place to be treated at comes up. This can be a tough decision on a good day, but coupled with the anxiety we often feel in the middle of a medical incident, it can be overwhelming.
Before you head out to the ER or Urgent Care, realize that you are going to be asked for and given a lot of information once your appointment gets going. If you are anything like me, keeping track of your kids’ medical information can be a bit overwhelming, especially in a situation when the appointment isn’t preplanned. We have found a great app that helps parents keep their kids’ medical information organized.
The key to determining which location is the best to visit is determining how urgent your medical needs are. For the purposes of this discussion, we will define “emergency” as an injury or illness that poses an immediate risk to your life or the state of your health in the long term. For example, if your child is being bothered by seasonal allergies and they are experiencing a runny nose and scratchy throat, that would not be considered an emergency using the criteria we set above. However, if your child ingests a food they are allergic to and is beginning to show signs of going into anaphylactic shock, THAT would definitely be an emergency.
For conditions that are bothersome and need to be checked out, but are not posing an immediate risk to life or health, a visit to your doctor’s office is an appropriate response. Your primary care provider has the advantage of knowing your health history and that gives them an edge when it comes to determining the best diagnosis and/or treatment. My family definitely tries to bring any issues or concerns to our primary care physician first whenever possible.
What if you have a minor medical condition that you would like checked out sooner rather than later but aren’t able to get into your primary care doctor as soon as you would like? One option you can consider is visiting a retail clinic. A retail clinic is typically located inside a pharmacy, chain store or grocery store and they are usually staffed by nurse practitioners, physician assistants or pharmacists with additional training or certifications. My family has utilized the quick care clinics at local pharmacies for non-emergency situations like sports physicals, pink eye, and sore throats. Each clinic may offer different services so it’s always a good idea to call ahead or check their website before arriving.
Urgent Care and Walk-in Clinics are a good option for times when you have an urgent medical need but it doesn’t qualify as an all out emergency. They are often open out side of regular office hours (sometimes 24 hours) and don’t require an appointment. They offer the opportunity to see a doctor quickly with shorter wait times and lower costs than the typical emergency room visit. My family has utilized our local walk-in clinic for things like lacerations and back pain as well as typical childhood injuries like sprains.
Another great option is Amwell. For just $69, you can skip the waiting room and get the closest thing to a house call! Amwell’s board-certified healthcare professionals can consult with you via your desktop or mobile device. Check out this post for a 50% off coupon code!
Lastly, emergency rooms are for times when serious medical situations come up that need attention immediately as they are equipped to handle life threatening conditions and situations. If a situation is truly life threatening, call 911 and let the first responders begin treatment upon arrival.
If you do bring yourself or a family member to an emergency room, please keep in mind that the staff triages patients based on the severity of their needs and will take the most severely injured first. Luckily we have not had to visit the emergency room too many times, but were very grateful it was there when Josh passed out at school. The staff at the ER was able to rule out any life threatening conditions immediately and if he had been having a cardiac incident, both the first responders and ER staff would have been equipped to handle it.
When a child hurts themselves and is upset or when a fever spikes in the wee hours of the morning, it can be hard to make a confident judgment on where, or even if, you should visit a doctor, clinic or ER. One thing that has been a huge help to our family over the years is our medical association’s call center. When I have been unsure how urgently my family or I need to be seen, I have had a nurse call me back to discuss the situation personally. This was a huge help when I caught a stomach bug while pregnant and wasn’t sure if I should be concerned about dehydration. I didn’t want to go into a clinic in the middle of the night if it wasn’t necessary. This service also can schedule pediatric and family practice appointments even when the office is closed. I don’t know how many times I called and made an appointment to see Josh’s pediatrician first thing in the morning when he woke in the middle of the night with an earache.
Because the onset of a health situation can often be accompanied by fear, panic, and strong emotions, it’s a great idea to familiarize yourself with the different service offerings in your area and have a solid idea of which location is best for which situation. This way you aren’t trying to research and make decisions in the heat of the moment.